Caddie Confidential: Fears, conditioning and following the rules for the PGA Tour’s return

What have caddies been doing with their time off? The real reason a caddie fears getting the coronavirus? The truth about wearing the bibs at Colonial?

The PGA Tour is set to return this week after 13 weeks off because of the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the sports world. So now is the perfect time to put Caddie Confidential back on the tee.

Collins: As a caddie, what have you been doing since the Players Championship? How did that all go down for you?
Caddie: For me, I came home. I shut it down. For probably close to two weeks, didn’t do anything. (Now) I play golf twice a week with the same three guys. We hoof our own bag. We show up five minutes before our tee time, we play with raised cups. And when our last putt drops on 18, we go to our cars and we drive home. That’s the only social interaction I’ve had since the Players Championship. I haven’t eaten out since restaurants have opened. And now that Colonial’s closer, they’re sending home testing kits. The juice is not worth the squeeze. To go out and somehow randomly get it and then be told you got another two or three weeks off, you can’t come back.

Collins: Caddies and players are in the same boat when it comes to testing. What’s your biggest fear with this? Is it the traveling, the hotel, the rental cars?
Caddie: I’m not nervous about traveling per se, in the sense that I may get sick. Clearly I don’t wanna to get sick. But I’m nervous about contracting the virus and being told, hey, you’re out again for another two or three weeks. I mean, I’ve had, like all of us, three months of zero income. And I don’t want to extend that another few weeks. The traveling part, I’m definitely going to drive more moving forward. Without pro-ams on Wednesday, the rush to get there Monday, Monday afternoon to go work is not quite there because you’ve got a free day up your sleeve Wednesday to, you know, to play practice rounds and do whatnot. So I think a lot of players are like, “Hey, it’s all good. Just get there.” So my fear is not getting sick. My fear is somehow getting it and the worst-case scenario would be you’re asymptomatic, so you feel fine. But you’re told you can’t caddie for a few weeks, and your player goes out and wins. That’s my fear. So, restaurants have opened up where I live to a certain degree, not full capacity. Barbershops have opened up and I’m never a guy that’s paranoid about life. But to me the juice ain’t worth the squeeze. I’ve been cooking for two straight months.

Collins: And when we get to Colonial, how long before players and caddies are on the course saying, “F— this, you’re negative and I’m negative. Let’s get back to business as usual?”
Caddie: I would say the practice round. It might not be a conscious decision, because I think guys are going to be very pragmatic about this because they understand, even players who may have more money than they could spend are gonna be like, “I want to get back and play and make an income.” They’re gonna be mindful of stuff and everyone’s going to try and pitch in and do the right thing. To make sure that the tour goes ahead. But 20 years of reflexes of grabbing a club from a player, or even a little fist bump, or something, it’s gonna creep in. And then, as for that “f— it,” I don’t care anymore. You don’t have it. I don’t have it. It’ll only be a matter of days before that happens with some pairing.

Collins: What do you think will be most different on the golf course for you?
Caddie: Probably just the whole, who touches the club, who puts it back in, who pulls it? [The tour] wants the player to do everything, but then the cleaning of the club, you know … they haven’t mentioned that in any of the protocols, but they just say, hey, the player has to pull the club out of the bag and put it back in. But, you got cleaning of the club. And, in theory, it doesn’t sound that bad. But what happens is you’re hitting a third shot from the trees, and then that third shot is a punch out. And it’s from like, dirty, muddy area and those grooves are caked and their player is fuming and he’s like, “I’m not f—- cleaning the club!” And he just gives it to you. What am I supposed to say? “Hey, man, remember …” You gonna grab it, you’re gonna clean it, and you’re gonna try and get that ball in the hole. This whole theory that every player hits the fairway and every player hits the green and the grooves are moderately dirty and you just slide it back in the bag and move on. There’s all kinds of weird s— that goes down in a round of golf. There’s no way that a caddie can’t touch a club. It ain’t happening.

Collins: Here’s one: Has the tour said anything about what happens if it starts raining? How does the umbrella work?
Caddie: All that stuff hasn’t been spoken about yet, like the specifics other than they want the player to touch the clubs or the equipment. But an umbrella is a piece of equipment and it’s just not possible in rain and wind for a player to hold the umbrella, then put it down on the ground, then hit your shot in the rain, and then come back and pick up that umbrella and put it back out.

Collins: And how does the player practice stroke on the green while holding his own umbrella?
Caddie: Exactly, exactly. So stuff like that. They’re gonna have to roll with the punches, but the way I look at it is you know if you can minimize anything, maybe you just constantly use hand sanitizer. You’re just with your player and your player is just with you. The times you’re going to be holding the umbrella or cleaning a club, it’s just unavoidable. You can’t play our sport otherwise.

Collins: Have you heard of any players who are paying their caddie during this off-time?
Caddie: Yes, for sure.

Collins: Really?
Caddie: A lot more than I thought. Now granted, I’ve only asked a question to maybe six or eight of my closest friends, and over 50% of them are getting taken care. Myself included.

Collins: And did it surprise you that your player would do something like that?
Caddie: It didn’t surprise me. Because from day one, my guy has been very thoughtful and very generous with things. Some players I know, right after the Players Championships, sent their guys check and said, “Hey, hopefully this gets you through the next month or two. And if it doesn’t, we’ll revisit.” Some players just said, “Hey, this is what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna send you a check, you know, every couple of weeks or every month to tide you over.” And then some players are restructuring the pay moving forward to kind of counter pay, is something that I’ve heard from a few guys. So nothing in the short term. But once tournaments start up, instead of getting amount X, you get amount Y and a little bump in the percentage to account for the three months of no income.

Collins: And have you heard of any caddies who have been in a bad way from this amount of time off?
Caddie: I’ve heard some whispers, but I’ve never spoken to anybody directly.

Collins: What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge on the golf course for a caddie?
Caddie: Biggest challenge, I mean, we kind of touched on it before — 20 years of a conditioned response. Where to stand. You were never fearful of standing next to another player or caddie. You never worried about grabbing a club to clean. Obviously, that’s not going to hurt the sport and it’s not going to cause a massive outbreak in the virus if someone touches a club or cleans the club.

Collins: What about going out to eat?
Caddie: I haven’t gone out to eat. I’ll continue to not go out to eat. The way I look at it, if it helps just 0.1% of us not getting it or us not bringing it to a community that we visit, you know, like Fort Worth or Hilton Head… That it helps the situation if we stay in the recommended hotels, we rent from the recommended rental-car company. You go back to the hotel, you get food from the restaurant at the hotel, and you go back to your room and eat in the room or maybe you just sit by yourself down in the lobby. But if they say, “Hey, you got to do A, B and C, because this helps.” Even if it helps just a little bit then I’m going to do A, B, and C. Because I don’t want to be told, “Hey [caddie], you got another three weeks off?” Yeah, that’s my only fear is being told, “Sorry, man, you’re out again, benched.” Imagine being the asymptomatic guy. I’m telling you, the only thing that really concerns me is: A, getting it somehow and being told not to work; B, I’m sure the tour has thought about this: The testing kits are pretty accurate but they’re not 100%, right? What happens if you come back as a positive result? And you don’t actually have it? Are you allowed to ask for another test. You get a false positive and the tour is like, “Sayonara man! You gotta stay in place for 14 days. Or if you feel good enough, you can drive back to your home.

Are you allowed to demand or request another test? I hope it’s not one-and-done. And if I do somehow get it, it’s not going to be because I’ve been an idiot and I can probably speak on behalf of all the caddies, well most of the caddies, on that because they’re in the same boat.

Collins: What’s gonna be the hardest thing about getting back to caddying?
Caddie: I’ve never had this amount of time off in over 20 years. I think the longest I’ve had might have been seven weeks. But that was back in the day when it was not the wraparound season and we’d wrap things up early November and I would go home. I’ve never gone this long without work in my entire adult life. And that’s why I’ve been hoofing my (golf) bag. I’m like, why am I gonna ride a cart?! If I’m sitting on my ass and my only exercise is to play golf, I’m hoofing my own bag. I’ve got 13 clubs. I’ve got my Jones bag, throw it on my shoulder. And I hoof it. I don’t want to show up in Fort Worth, being indoors for up to three months, out of shape, because it’s gonna be hot.

Collins: At least Colonial is pretty flat!
Caddie: And Hilton Head the week after that! We’ve got two of the most dream courses (for caddies to walk) to start out with. Can you imagine starting in Denver, or Reno, or Kapalua?!

Collins: There would be some caddies and players in trouble!
Caddie: What about L.A. and Riviera? The 18th hill?

Collins: Torrey Pines, trying to walk up to the 13th green!
Caddie: I actually brought it up to a caddie friend of mine. So (caddie) has been playing a bit of golf when he can and I think they ride. I’m like, “Dude, I’ve been hoofing.”

He goes, “Man, but it’s hot here…”

“Yeah, it’s hot, but I need exercise.” So he went and got a backpack and filled it with 15 pounds worth of s— in the backpack and he’s been doing 2-mile walks in the morning, just to kind of get the blood flowing again! But I’m like, that’s a good idea because we’re honing in on Colonial. Colonial was always so far away we never even knew it would come and now we’re (inside a week). Exercise is key for us now. But you know, caddies are survivors and they’ll get through it. There might be a few guys who get punched in the face the first few weeks if they’re out of shape, but they’ll work it out.

Collins: What’s the one thing that you’re most looking forward to when we get back out there?
Caddie: The camaraderie. Being back at it with my player. I mean, I get along with my player. So just being back around him and back around the boys that you don’t get to see. You don’t realize how close the friendships you make are when you’re out on the road with these guys. You take that kind of thing for granted. But I’ve had three months of no social interaction with my friends other than over the telephone. So I’m looking forward to seeing the boys, seeing my guy, and competing. The human aspect of golf, you don’t really pay attention to it, until it’s ripped away from you. My closest friends in life are all other caddies or players or someone involved with the tour, and you don’t realize that until you can’t see anybody for three months.

Collins: How do you feel about what the tour is gonna do with the bibs?
Caddie: They just said they’re gonna wash them every night and give them back the next day. That’s what they do every week.

Collins: But if safety is the big concern, isn’t this an unnecessary risk just to make the sponsors happy?
Caddie: I think that’s a big part of it. Because if they really, really were concerned about the safety issues, they would just say, “Hey, no bibs.” Eliminate any chance of a bib having something on it, that could then be passed on to the caddie and then passed on to a player. So this is clearly to appease the sponsors. You’re going to have tournaments now without pro-ams, you got tournaments now with no invited guests to come hang out and mingle and meet and greet. You’ve got no crowds. So I think if I took the bib away as well, it would be just another punch to the sponsors. And I’m going to be honest with you, that’s the least of my worries with the bib. When I said that the bib is going to be washed every night and you’ve got to go to a collection area and pick it up before you get to the tee, you know, who cares? And you know a couple of guys that have called me and kind of whined and complained about this … like if you can’t roll with the punches now!?!

Yeah, if you can’t adapt and adjust right now, then maybe you need to revisit what you’re doing in life. Because, you know, I’ve used this word a few times, if the tour said to me, I need to shave my head and wear whatever because it’s going to help, I’ll f—ing do it because I’ve got to. I don’t want to have another three months, or six months or the rest of this year, right? Zero income. I’m gonna be very, very pragmatic about all this. The alternative is s—.